Central Park concert amps up COVID recovery, beats drum of ongoing vax effort

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Don’t stop believin’ in New York City.

That’s the message city officials hope to send Saturday, with a star-studded concert on Central Park’s Great Lawn that anticipates a prosperous post-pandemic future.

Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and 1980s hitmakers Journey are among the acts headlining the show. Festivities kick off at 5 p.m. and end late in the evening.

Visitors to the open-air spectacle will be home before Hurricane Henri arrives, but the park could start getting windy late in the show as the storm’s northernmost winds reach New York starting around 9 p.m.

The show, dubbed “We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert,” highlights New York City Homecoming Week, a nine-day of festival of outdoor concerts, movies, cultural activities and “iconic events” that kicked off last weekend to herald better days ahead.

“We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert” is the culmination of NYC Homecoming week, a celebration of the city’s recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

“NYC Homecoming Week represents what a recovery for all of us looks like, with events for every New Yorker to enjoy thanks to our incredible cultural, entertainment, and community partners,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement.

The concert features various generations and genres of performers, from 78-year-old lounge legend and native New Yorker Barry Manilow to 27-year-old biracial country heartthrob Kane Brown, in an effort to attract a diverse range of tastes.

But the free show is more than just an effort to rekindle the glory days of Central Park as a concert venue. It’s also a carrot being held out by city hall to encourage New Yorkers to get vaccinated for COVID-19 – open only to those New Yorkers who took the jab.

“This citywide celebration will demonstrate how, when everyone does their part to get vaccinated, our communities and families can stay safe while enjoying all that our city has to offer,” de Blasio said.

A woman dances at Central Park's Great Lawn in New York on Aug. 20, 2021, a day before the "We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert"
A woman dances at Central Park’s Great Lawn in New York on Aug. 20, 2021, a day before the “We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert.”
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

That vaccination requirement excludes millions of New Yorkers from attending: 40 percent of city residents, including 48 percent of Hispanics, 50 percent of whites and 62 percent of black New Yorkers, have yet to get even a first shot, according to the latest Department of Health data.

De Blasio insists the show will go on despite growing COVID concerns by performers around the world. Garth Brooks, BTS and Nine Inch Nails have all canceled tours in recent days.

Officials have not given an estimate on expected crowd size. But the bar for legendary Central Park performances is high. Country icon Brooks reportedly set the standard, with sources such as Rolling Stone saying as many as 980,000 people attended his epic 1997 concert on the North Meadow, citing FDNY estimates.

A man sits at Central Park's Great Lawn in New York on Aug. 20, 2021, a day before the "We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert."
A man sits at Central Park’s Great Lawn in New York on Aug. 20, 2021, a day before the “We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert.”
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Not every Central Park concert has been a success. American pop and R&B legend Diana Ross suffered a pair of failed shows in 1983, one because of severe weather and the other due to “excessive rowdiness,” the Parks Department reports. Ross later donated $250,000 in a gesture of goodwill for a park playground near West 81st Street that bears her name.

The Saturday lineup also includes Jon Batiste, Andrea Bocelli, LL Cool J, Elvis Costello, Lucky Daye, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Jennifer Hudson, Wyclef Jean, The Killers, New York Philharmonic, Carlos Santana and Patti Smith.

The concert airs on CNN from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

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